Boston Marathon 2013

I had qualified for Boston at the 2011 NYC Marathon. I thought, why not use the ticket if I already have one – and signed up. Preparation had gone well, despite parts of it taking place in freezing Norway; I followed a seven weeks plan for triathletes where a few of the very long runs are replaced by moderately long runs followed by two hours of cycling. While in Norway, I replaced cycling with cross-country skiing, and when back in Switzerland, I replaced some of these run/bike combos with actual long runs, maxing out at 36 km (22 mi). The only running race I did during the preparation were the Swiss 10 km Champs (where I PBed).

I had been thoroughly briefed about the course by people who’d run it before, so I knew that going out too hard would be stupid and that the hills starting at km 25 are tough. My elaborate plan was to hold a pace of about 4:05 min/km until the hills and then see what happens. A foolproof recipe for a PB!

Before running, I had to get to Boston, which took place by way of a series of flights and was crowned by meeting my hosts: Jen and Joel, your average ultrarunning extreme mountaineering my-first-triathlon-was-a-70.3 couple. Let’s just say that even if the race had been horrible, my stay would still have been awesome. I was taken care of 24/7 – thanks again, you two (and Bree with the world’s best retrieving dog, Peanut)!

At the expo, I also bumped into Bria whom I’d only known from her website so far. Nice meeting you!

On race morning, I opted not to take the busses from Boston to the staging area in Hopkinton, but was driven directly there. Did I mention my wonderful hosts?

I was among the earliest runners there, so we had no problems with traffic and I had lots of time to kill until the start.

People had their picture taken in front of this sign:

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And I was decked out in throwaway clothes to keep me warm:

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When it was finally time to slowly move to the starting area, I did something very stupid and dropped off the bag with stuff to be delivered to the finish with my gel belt still in it. I realised it a minute later, and luckily they could still retrieve it. There is only one gel given out during the race, and that’s definitely not cutting it for me.

Here I am in my corral, wearing said belt and an awkward toothless smile:

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It wasn’t much later that the first wave was assembled completely and waiting for the start. I’m pretty sure I’m in this picture, but all the zooming in the world didn’t help to actually find myself.

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And off we went!

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Boston is unique in that about the first ten kilometres are downhill and that you’re running surrounded by people who were about as fast as you when they qualified. I’ve been warned not to get sucked into starting too fast, and I obediently followed this advice. My first 5 km were the slowest of the first 25 (until the hills), but this being said, they were all almost the same (between 20:21 and 20:31).

It’s hard to tell where exactly the pictures were taken. A bit of detective work (number of gels left, snot spot status on left shoulder) led to what is probably the correct order, but that’s it.

As mentioned, the first 25 km were uneventful. I kept checking my watch, happy every time I hit my exact pace and took in fluids every five kilometres if I felt like it and a gel every ten kilometres. This might be around the first gel:

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And this must have been a little later, seeing that one gel has been devoured. Also, birth of the snot spot:

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"Uneventful" might be a lie. Shortly before half marathon point, there was the famous "Scream Tunnel" at the (all woman) Wellesley College. I had been told this would be great, and it was. There was screaming abound, and a forest of signs explaining why their respective bearers should be kissed. There was unfortunately of course no time for shenanigans, but it was certainly fun to run past.

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This might be the half marathon point:

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Before the hills started, there was a short downhill section, leading to my fastest kilometre split of the day. But then! The next four kilometres were all slower as in 4:24, 4:16, 4:28 and 4:16. The fact that people around me were passing me told me that uphill still wasn’t a strength of mine.

This could have been on that hill:

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A short flat section brought a bit of relief, but then it was time for Heartbreak Hill. A name thoroughly deserved as I felt like standing still going up that incline. My splits were 4:35, 4:22 and 4:49 – hardly sub three material! However, my 5k splits from 25 to 35 km were 21:13 and 21:57, so not all was lost. From now on, it was mostly downhill with a few mean bumps.

This could have been on one of those downhill parts:

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At 35 km, my official overall average pace was just a bit slower than 4:11 min/km, giving me a projected finishing time of 2:56:48. Totally within the scope of my elaborate battle plan of “steady for the first 25 km, don’t die on the hills, bring it home”.

However, despite the apparent net downhill properties of the last few kilometres, they didn’t feel easy at all. My pace was less steady now, oscillating between 4:04 and 4:29. About five kilometres from the finish, I saw (and heard) Brian, the (now) president of our running team, cheering for me – always good for a boost!

Here I am starting the finishing straight, if I remember correctly:

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I managed to put in a decent final effort to finish with a net time of 2:57:12, a PB of almost two minutes over my NYC marathon time. I’ll take it!

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I got geared up in my space blanket:

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There was no long wait to get my clothes, and Jen was already waiting for me at the meeting point. A short subway and car ride later, we were home. Only then the concerned messages started trickling in, and the rest of the day was spent watching TV in disbelief.

The only way I was affected was that we couldn’t go into the city for dinner, but that was it. The very next day, it was no problem at all to get to the airport, and apart from a few extra questions before boarding the plane, everything was normal. I haven’t seen or experienced anything more than everybody who was watching TV that day, hence no deep comments and thoughts on that incident.

Remember when I ran along all tram lines in Zurich last year to prepare for the Boston Marathon? I always wanted to do some statistics about that project, such as number of runs, percentage of distance run actually used for the project, total lengths of tram lines and so on. I’m too lazy to dig up all the data now, but I’ve found these two screenshots.

The first one shows all my runs for the projects together; the second one the portions used for the project (i.e., the Zurich tram network). Neat, isn’t it?

In other news, my project is now outdated, as line number 5 goes until Albisgüetli now. I won’t forget it!

Swiss 10 km Road Running Championships 2013

With the running season in full swing and the first spring marathons about to happen, a large contingent of my running team (TV Oerlikon) had signed up for the 10 km Road Running Swiss Champs at the end of March. Most TVO people were in their final training phase for the Marathon Swiss Champs (taking place at the Zurich Marathon in April), but it suited my schedule with the Boston Marathon just as well.

My previous best was a 36:50 from 2012 when the GP Dübendorf took place on the Air Force base, so clearly I wanted to beat that. Other than that, it was just supposed to be a test to see where my speed was.

After warming up and entering the starting corral, there was a lot of pushing and shoving. Seconds before the start, people from the front started to push back, and the people at the back understandably didn’t want to move. I was roughly in the middle and felt pretty pressurised.

Suddenly, the race started and everybody pushed forward. I was shoved into a tiny girl roughly half my weight, and to avoid running her over I kind of lifted her up and put her down immediately a few steps later.

As I learned later from the official who had measured the course and escorted the leaders on a bike, the runners at the front of the field stood about two metres in front of the starting line and were told to move back. Unfortunately, nobody except them heard that instruction, so suddenly there was this mass shuffling going on.

Anyway, after a few metres this was all forgiven and forgotten. The course was, as typical for championship races, very short: a small loop to start with, then a larger one to be done four times. I started off with a 3:30 min/km pace for the first three kilometres – a pace I hope to be able to hold for a full 10K race one day. (That day wasn’t the one day.)

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The girl behind me is the one I almost ran over at the start. At the time of the race, she was 13 years old; more about her later.

The pace of the people in my heat was incredibly fast. In races of this size, I’m used to running in the first 10% or so. Here, however… not so much.

I could keep the pace rather constant within a band of between 3:30 and 3:47 for my slowest kilometre. No blowing up, no spectacular negative splitting.

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The next pic was taken by a long time member of our team, which I’d never seen before, hence my somewhat surprised look when he was cheering.

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Shortly before I started my last lap, the race winner passed me (for a pretty impressive 28:27.9 finish). A few minutes later, I finished myself, with an improvement of my PB by a massive 8.4 seconds. Better than nothing!

The girl from the start finished a few seconds after me. I looked her up later because I was very impressed; turns out she holds several European age best performances, wins about every race she participates in and is a member of the Swiss Triathlon junior regional team (no national team in her age group). As are her two triplet sisters; her older sister is in the junior national team. There have been years where the triplets placed 1-2-3 in national championships. Olympics 2024, I say!

Engadin Skimarathon 2013

Just like the year before, I finished the cross-country skiing season by participating in the Engadin Skimarathon beginning of March. Despite my stay in Norway, I hadn’t racked up a lot of distance on skis, but at least I had definitely been training more often. The procedure was the same as the year before: get there on Saturday to pick up the number, stay in a civil protection shelter and get up early on Sunday to place your skis near the front of your starting block.

Having become wiser after the experience in 2012, I made sure to know exactly where I put my skis and have some spare time before the start to get ready.

While the last seconds to the start were counted down, I knowingly watched the poor souls who hadn’t found their skis yet – a rite of passage, I suppose!

Despite my plan of going all out right after the start to get clear of the field and not having to wait at the first significant hill, I got caught in the masses. Not as bad as the year before, but still. I guess you have to be first row to get away. Also, as of 2014, the starting procedure has been changed and the timing switched to net time so it’s less important to be at the front.

Pretty even splits confirm that the traffic jam was much less acute than the year before. My slowest kilometre split (waiting at the hill of the ski-jump) was about seven minutes (comparing to more than 15 in 2012), and most of the rest was around three minutes. These were taken at about ten kilometres into the race:

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Notice the textbook technique. (Of the guy behind me in the second picture.)

I managed to get through the famous downhill at Stazerwald without any bigger problems, and the parts along the airfield in Samedan (notorious for their head winds) went fine as well.

It was in the hills just before the finish (called “Golan Heights” for some reason) where I caught up with a guy I knew from triathlon camp. I didn’t recognise him at first (but marvelled at his one-piece race suit), but turned around when he shouted “go go go” after I passed. Before I knew it, I was between to athletes going just a little bit slower than me, a man and a woman. The track was slightly angled to the left, and in a second of inattention, my left ski touched the right ski of the guy.

Now I understand how this is annoying, and I apologised for it. Mind you, nobody crashed because of it. The answer was a long stream of expletives even triggering the uninvolved lady on the other side to tell him to shut up. I decided to take the high road (or just to get away) and said nothing.

Shortly afterwards, I finished with a time I was happy about, two hours 24 minutes and change. Almost half an hour faster than the year before! Unfortunately, the race was faster overall, so I still missed the qualification time for the next faster category by about ten minutes.

Extra points for anybody discovering me in the finisher video.

After a few months without a working heart rate monitor, I recently got a new one – back to suffer scores on Strava! To further enhance my data collection, I also got a cadence sensor for my TT bike, and to reduce that strange pale patch around my left wrist, I got the very sleek Barfly TT mount to attach my Forerunner to the aerobar extensions. Test ride in five minutes, the countdown to the Cayman Islands Duathlon (my first competition since Berlin Marathon) is running!

Apparently, Garmin is about to introduce new magnetless sensors for speed and cadence, see for example in DC Rainmaker’s first look at the Edge 1000. Too late for me, though!

Svanstulrennet 2013 – 29 km

In February 2013, I spent another four weeks working in Norway. In Skien, just like the Summer before when I did my first MTB race and that neat 10k run on an island. Realising that I would be in the mecca of cross-country skiing, I brought my skating skis and planned on skiing a lot to prepare for Engadin Skimarathon in March.

Skien is a small place with about 60’000 residents, but the place sports about a dozen XC skiing tracks, two of which are even lit at night. Most tracks are for classic skiing only, but the biggest one (where I always went) had a skating track as well.

Even though I went often, I never managed to stay much longer than one hour. I usually went in the evening after work, and it was just too cold to stay any longer.

The same colleague that had taken me to the running race the Summer before told me about an event taking place on one of the weekends: Svanstulrennet, a XC skiing race near Skien. The catch was: classic technique only! My colleague lent me a pair of classic skis, I purchased grip wax (a science on its own) and decided to test the skis a few days before the race.

It was horrible. The skis were made for somebody much lighter than me, so they were almost completely on the ground when I was standing on them, leaving almost no room for grip wax. In addition, the track was completely frozen, so about one hour later, not much further and a few crashes “richer”, I was ready to abandon classic XC skiing forever.

My colleague convinced me to come along anyway, we would start in the “free” category ahead of the mass start, without timing. The day turned out to be absolutely beautiful with much better conditions than when I tried the skis, so it was actually a lot of fun. We started about half an hour before the actual race began.

The scenery presented itself like this:

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No complaints!

Far away, we could see Gaustatoppen, the mountain to be climbed at the end of Norseman. Roughly like this.

After a bit more than one hour, the fastest racers started passing us. I felt much more comfortable on my skis than when I first tested them, but how these guys managed to run up climbs the way they did remained a mystery to me.

The course consisted of a small loop that was followed counterclockwise, then a large loop clockwise and then the rest of the small loop, with a little overlap between the both.

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The fun lasted about two hours, until my wax wore off. There’s a reason why in longer classic races pros switch their skis! The last bit was a real struggle, with not so much grip and narrow bits where my poles seemed to disappear in the soft snow all the time. Lots of swearing and sweating later, we managed to finish, despite everything.

I had just one crash in a longer downhill section with a turn that seemed to become more and more narrow. My colleague zoomed along these as if on rails; me, not so much!

I haven’t tried classic XC skiing ever since, but I’m sure it’s great fun. And it’s very important to have skis suited to your body weight. And to become a waxing guru. Which all Norwegians seem to be!

Dietiker Neujahrslauf 2013 – 12.1 km

2013 was about to be a year of big racing, including the Boston Marathon in April, the one week Gigathlon in July and the Berlin Marathon in September. November and December saw more training than they did the two years before and the weather for this January weekend was awesome, so what better to do than start at the ZüriLaufCup opener in Dietikon, right?

A lot of friends from my running team TV Oerlikon started as well, so waiting never got boring. Before the main race, it was the children’s turn. Like this enthusiastic parent & kid team:

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The slightly older kids ran without their parents. I’m not sure what happened after this scene, but something tells me it involved some tears:

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The last start before mine was the race with all women and the men older than 50. Fastest of them all (by a lot) was Mona, seen here about one kilometre from the finish:

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Side note: she ran a 2:36:50 marathon later that year in Hamburg. If she were Swiss, that would be a qualifying time for the European Champs!

Finally, it was time for our start. I had done this race twice before, in 2010 when it was ice cold and everything was covered in snow (it was also my first race since starting to run seriously) and in 2011, where I almost was faster than 4 min/km for the first time in a race longer than 10 km. The goal was of course to be faster than ever, and I had a little personal rivalry with a certain somebody who was also racing, so that was the other goal.

Unfortunately, that other goal went out the window after about one minute, as my rival disappeared to the front and I couldn’t really follow. But at least the scenery was nice:

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The course consists of two loops with a hefty hill in each. I lost quite some places every time we went up that hill, but other than that I felt okay. Apart from never catching rival number one, that is.

This is shortly before the finish:

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I do have the original without a watermark somewhere, I just don’t really know where.

I finished the 12.1 km course in 46:38.6, bettering my previous PB by almost two minutes. So that was good. I lost a full minute on my rival, so that was bad. My scoring for the overall series (which I wasn’t targeting that year) was a bit lower than the races before, but a single race score doesn’t say much as it’s based on the winner’s time alone.

The race was an alright start to the big year, could have been better, could have been worse. And I won something in the raffle, yay! Yay shower products for women! Well, they were a great gift afterwards. Up next in the racing season: Engadin Skimarathon, two months later!